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Friday, May 26, 2017
What First-Time Parents Need to Know About Labor and Delivery Complications
Posted by Edward Garcia of

The excitement and anticipation of pregnancy embarks a long, nine-month cooperative journey between a mother, and her medical care team. Ensuring a healthy pregnancy and delivery is a team effort, that has much to do with lifestyle choices and parental diligence, as it does with the expertise and care available from primary care providers.

The complexities of a healthy pregnancy are not always understood by first-time parents, and the medical community should be prepared to provide education and training to help ensure successful outcomes. What do parents need to know about labor and delivery complications? We’ll review some of the fundamentals that help prepare women to navigate the nine-month term, while guarding personal wellness and the health of the infant.

The Risk of Oxygen Deprivation

Both during pregnancy and labor, lack of oxygen is a key factor that contributes to increased risks for the child. Anoxic or hypoxic brain injuries can occur during delivery, when an infant stops breathing for a few minutes, and result in long-term disabilities including weak muscular and motor control, spasms, and lack of consciousness (ability to be wakened from a sleep state).

Cerebral anoxia occurs when the infants brain is completely deprived of oxygen, either in the womb during gestation, or during delivery. Oxygen deprivation can cause permanent brain and cognitive damage, as well as impacts to vital organ systems.   A prolapsed umbilical cord during pregnancy or labor can immediately cut off essential oxygen supply to the infant.  

How does oxygen deprivation complicate the health of the infant?  Even mild deprivation or restriction of oxygen to the infant can have long term impacts.  The following medical conditions are associated with infant oxygen deprivation during pregnancy, or delivery:

  • Morbidity (still birth)
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Epilepsy
  • Intellectual disabilities and cognitive impairment
  • Muscular and organ malfunction and damage

During delivery, the amnioinfusion procedure (injection of saline solution into the placenta) can help move the infant and allow for more space in utero, to remove pressure from the umbilical cord.  Natural births are not usually engaged after there has been a confirmed prolapse of the umbilical, and a C-section and immediate delivery of the infant is a priority, to avoid brain damage.

In medical malpractice cases, excessive pulling during delivery, or the abnormal use of birth-assisting tools and equipment (forceps and vacuum extraction) can cause situations where oxygen is restricted for the infant.  Extended labor and difficulties, or excessive pushing prematurely in the labor process, can also cause the umbilical cord to become impinged within the birth canal.   Failing to monitor the infant’s respiration and access to oxygen during delivery, are grounds for a charge of medical malpractice in the United States.

Wrongful Birth and Detection of Terminal Conditions

Throughout the gestation period, tests and diagnostics are performed to monitor the development of the fetus.  Sometimes however, the tests reveal that a fetus may not be viable, or have one or more terminal and developmental health conditions.  The news can be devastating to first-time parents, but the option to terminate the pregnancy may be a compassionate one, depending on the wishes of the family and severity of the condition. Wrongful birth occurs when care providers fail to successfully terminate the pregnancy, or inform parents of terminal disabilities.

Prospective parents should be aware that any impending birth defects are detectable through testing, and primary care providers must disclose the information to parents.   For families with one or more severe hereditary conditions, genetic testing can be conducted before conception.  However, the failure of health care providers to detect physical impairments and possible cognitive and mental threats to normal development are actionable by medical malpractice law.

Other Common Medical Errors During Labor and Delivery

There are several ways that a medical care team can fail in the delivery of a safe labor and birth process for the mother. Administration of medications and prescription errors, including incorrect dosage, failure to perform an emergency C-section if required, incorrect application of techniques and tools during delivery and labor, or failure to recognize and take action, where fetal distress is apparent.  Doctors who also fail to follow up after delivery with post-birth diagnostics for both mother and child, may also be found negligent, particularly if secondary conditions arise that are maternal or infant health risks.

One of the hardest challenges for parents in the delivery room, is paying attention to what is being said and done by the medical care team.  To say there are other pressing distractions would be an understatement, but it is imperative that first-time parents be aware of the risks, and discuss them thoroughly with their obstetric team throughout the pregnancy and before labor and delivery.  Know the warning signs of medical negligence during pregnancy and delivery, and consult with a lawyer if you feel that your child was impacted by poor provider care.

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